Legislative Report – March 18, 2013

Leg ReportMarch 18, 2013

Caucus Jan 2013 # 2

Left to right:  Representatives Gene Ward Ph.D, Beth Fukumoto, Aaron Ling Johanson, Cynthia Thielen, Bob McDermott, Lauren Kealohilani Cheape and Richard Fale

News Release: Governor dismisses hotel industry concerns over upholding hotel tax increase as “propaganda”

Governor Abercrombie today dismissed industry concerns that his proposal to repeal the sunset on the high transient accommodations tax rate would harm Hawaii’s tourism industry. In response to a legislator’s echoing of industry worries that the high tax rate is hurting business and the greater Hawaii economy, the governor interrupted by saying he has been hearing “the same propaganda.”

Our caucus members are concerned that the governor would show this kind of insensitivity toward the needs of our state’s private sector, especially as this attitude was coupled with numerous requests for new and higher taxes and fees and higher spending on numerous government programs. The House has already killed most tax and fee increase proposals and passed a fiscally responsible.

The bill the governor was commenting on, SB 1194 SD2, failed to pass the House Committee on Tourism today. The TAT rate was incrementally increased twice in 2009 and 2010 from 7.25 to 9.25 percent. The rate is set to revert to 7.25 percent on June 30, 2015 if the sunset is not repealed.

To read the complete news release, please click here.

House passes fiscally responsible budget

The House budget that passed last week does many things for which the House Minority Caucus has long been advocating. This is a clear sign that the House is moving in the right direction. The budget has now crossed to the Senate for further consideration.

The House budget improves government accountability and restructures and reprioritizes spending by:

  • Proposing $600 million less in spending than the governor’s proposal;
  • Removing automatic funding of vacant positions so the legislature can evaluate need on a case-by-case basis;
  • Beginning to pay down the state’s staggering unfunded liabilities with $100 million per year for the two fiscal years. If passed, this could be the first year the state will contribute to unfunded liabilities; and
  • Restoring some of the most vital services for protecting our economy and environment, such as agricultural inspectors.

Some members expressed reservations regarding some of the taxes and fees that are still alive and the potential resurrection of other increases. The House Minority Caucus will remain vigilant to protect Hawaii residents from increasing our state’s already high cost of living.

HB 200 HD1 appropriates general fund spending for the current biennium fiscal years FY 2013-2014 and FY 2014-2015.

Notable bills to be heard this week

Information about how to send testimony on the below measures can be found at the corresponding links.

Tuesday, March 19

  • SB 215 SD3 establishes the public-private partnership authority (PPPA). While some argue that the PPPA would spur jobs and economic development, critics argue that the proposal is too similar to the controversial Public Land Development Corporation. See more details here.
  • SB 693 SD2 HD1 establishes a three-year pilot program for red light cameras. See more details here.

Wednesday, March 20

  • SB 1133 SD2 HD1 removes the exemption for dietary supplements in amounts greater than one ounce from the deposit beverage container program, effectively raising the fee for those purchases. See more details here.

Bill updates

Conveyance tax

A measure to increase the conveyance tax on high-end real estate transactions passed the House Water & Land Committee today. The bill directs funds to watershed protection and invasive species control. The Hawaii Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, citing a potential threat to real estate sales. (SB 1166 SD1)

Early childhood education

Many people have voiced concerns that an early education program would grow the size of government, create a public education voucher system and possibly restrict religious freedom in private schools. The House Education Committee passed bills last week that would:

  • Ask voters whether to amend the state Constitution and allow public money to fund private preschool. (SB 1084 SD1)
  • Establish a school readiness program for 4-year-olds who are no longer eligible for junior kindergarten for the 2014-2015 school year. (SB 1093 SD2)
  • Establish an early childhood education system to move the state toward universal preschool. (SB 1095 SD2)

Minimum wage increase

  • The House Labor Committee passed a proposal last week to increase Hawaii’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.25 by 2016 and indefinitely tie future increases to the consumer price index. (SB 331 SD2)

In Our Communities

Rep. Gene Ward (District 17 – Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) 

In place of the “Great Lawn” of Hawaii Kai, Kamehameha Schools and Foodland are requesting a change in the East Honolulu Sustainable Communities Plan and proceeding with plans to construct a strip mall. Please join Rep. Ward and other community leaders at an upcoming town hall meeting to gauge public opinion of the proposed development. Invited speakers include representatives of Kamehameha Schools, Foodland and the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

When: 7:00-8:30 p.m., Thursday, March 21, 2013
Where: Kamiloiki Elementary School Cafeteria, 7788 Hawaii Kai Drive, Honolulu

In The News

Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson (District 31 – Moanalua, Foster Village, Aiea)
Aiea gears up for new library

Rep. Cynthia Thielen (District 50 – Kailua, Kaneohe Bay)
Lawmakers Call for Study on Health Risks of Popular Weed Killer

If you have any questions or concerns about measures in the House or Senate, please don’t hesitate to contact the House Republican Caucus. We look forward to continuing to work with you to make Hawaii an even better place to live.


Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson
Minority Leader
T: (808) 586-9470

Rep. Beth Fukumoto
Minority Floor Leader
T: (808) 586-9460

Hemp Truths

Image March 20, 2013


Hemp Truths

The U.S. Constitution was written on this fiber, yet it’s illegal to grow it here.
by Cynthia Thielen | Mar 20, 2013
Mauka to Makai / When I offered samples from a bag of hemp-seed tortilla chips–purchased at Whole Foods–to my House colleagues recently, some of them recoiled, asking, “Is that legal?” Others asked, only half-joking, “Will it get me high?”

Not for stoners

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Hemp is not a drug. Unlike its fun-loving cousin marijuana, hard-working, utilitarian hemp contains only trace amounts of the psychoactive ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). They’re different varieties of the species Cannabis sativa L. Hemp’s tall stalks, sparse leaves and budless branches immediately distinguish it from short, bushy, bud-laden pakalolo.

ImageBut I can’t blame my fellow lawmakers for not understanding the difference between hemp and marijuana. This is the result of official U.S. drug policy, which equates and frowns upon both.

Nation-founding crop

“Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. For centuries, hemp was a major crop in Asia, Europe and then America. It was, and still is, used in rope, textiles, oils, medicine, bedding, building materials and food. Confucius and Lao Tsu wrote on hemp paper. The painters of the Renaissance plied their craft on hemp canvas (a word derived from cannabis).

Luckily for Americans, when it came to hemp, the colonists who fought off British tyranny weren’t as quavering and timid as some of our leaders today. As the colonists showed increasing disenchantment with the Crown, England forbade them to process the hemp they grew. They had to ship the raw materials to England, which exported the finished products back, thus keeping the colonists dependent.

In preparation for independence, the colonists defiantly started turning hemp into the necessary materials for war: paper, clothing, rope, sails. How fitting that the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution on hemp.

Growing prohibition

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 applied to hemp as well as marijuana, effectively killing U.S. hemp production until World War II. Then, American farmers were encouraged to grow hemp as part of the war effort. When the war ended, hemp cultivation dropped off again as plastics, nylon and other petroleum-based materials flourished.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act made it illegal to grow hemp, lumping it in with marijuana under the umbrella of cannabis prohibition.

Cannabis conundrum

Today, as a result, while it’s legal in the U.S. to purchase and own consumer items made with hemp, it’s illegal to grow the hemp itself. Fortunately, a growing bipartisan movement is addressing this. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.) has joined forces with his state’s Libertarian Sen. Rand Paul and Oregon’s Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to co-sponsor a bill that would legalize hemp cultivation in the U.S.

This mirrors Hawaii’s own bipartisan effort, House Bill 154 HD2 SD1, introduced by Speaker Joseph Souki, Representative Derek Kawakami, Representative Sylvia Luke, Representative Angus McKelvey and myself. The bill passed its first Senate hearing last week.


Hemp’s use in thousands of consumer items is well known, but some of its practical applications were discovered more recently. “Hempcrete,” a blend of hemp and lime, has a natural ability to repel termites that makes it ideal for Hawaii home construction.

Hemp also appears to be an efficient feedstock for biofuel. Providing hemp to Hawaii’s existing biodiesel producers would further reduce our reliance on imported oil.

As demonstrated after Chernobyl, the hemp plant, with its fast growth cycle and deep root system, has an uncanny ability to cleanse the soil through phytoremediation, drawing toxins in through its roots and storing them its stalks and leaves.

This soil-cleansing characteristic and hemp’s use in biofuel are the focus of HB 154 HD2 SD1, which would authorize the state Board of Agriculture to establish an industrial hemp pilot program in Hawaii.

Let’s get beyond the irrational opposition to industrial hemp and put Hawaii at the front of this national effort, heeding the advice of George Washington: “Make the most of the Indian Hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!”

Cynthia Thielen represents the 50th District (Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) in the state House of Representatives.